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Changing Organizational Behavior: A Theory of Transformational Vocabulary
University of Phoenix
Dr. Amy Hakim
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Changing Organizational Behavior: A Theory of Transformational Vocabulary
In the contemporary organization behaviors do not change until employees first think
about or visualize a need to change, share thoughts verbally with others, write down thoughts for
future reference, modification and or archiving, and have a reason to take action. The sequence
or existence of the last three components of this process may vary and the result is an increased
potential for organizational miscommunications. When misunderstandings occur in organizations
there is increased potential for task, goal and ultimately organization cessation. A theory is “a set
of systematically interrelated concepts, definitions, and hypotheses advanced to explain and
predict phenomena (Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn, 2008, p. 24).
This paper attempts to construct a theory of transformational vocabulary where
empowering and positive words are used to influence the favorable outcome of organization’s
future. The paper consists of sections closely following University of Phoenix doctoral program
research handbook guidelines including a problem and purpose statements adhering to American
Psychological Association style. These sections integrate theories, paradigms, and concepts
discussed and used in ORG/721(University of Phoenix, 2009, Syllabus). Using the theory of
transformational vocabulary this paper attempts to provide ideas on how to implement rapid,
ongoing, and long-term organizational change using the psychological power of positive words
in a systematic fashion.
The general problem is global businesses must constantly seek the best way to adapt
organizational cultures to rapidly changing operating environments as failure to do so could
result in business cessation. From Frederick Taylor and Henry Gannt’s (Darmody, 2007) work in
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developing the scientific management school of thought, to James MacGregor Burns’ (1978)
original work in the development of transformational leadership theory, to Warren Bennis’
(2004) more contemporary leadership research, organizations have sought to find the ideal
strategy to manage organizational behavior. The need to find the optimal organizational behavior
change strategy cuts across all types of organizations, is addressed in many scholarly peer-
reviewed journals, and impacts all aspects of effectively leading and managing an organization.
The specific problem is U.S. business organizations are facing rapidly changing operating
environments requiring constantly revised strategies to increase their likelihood of success on a
global scale. Many leadership experts and scholars suggest organizations planning to survive in
the future must embrace a number of critical leadership skills including participative
management, relationship building, and change management (Hesselbein, F., & Goldsmith, M.
(2006). All of these leadership skills require leaders be able to effectively communicate in order
to integrate these skills into a strategy will work. With rapid changes to organizations and their
operating environments today’s leaders must be able to effectively address a variety of issues.
Leaders must be equipped to address ethnocentrism, parochialism, and ethical behavior by using
effective communications skills to listen, speak, question, and use a variety of feedback
strategies to change behaviors. All of these issues and skill sets have the potential to be
positively influenced by the adoption of a transformational vocabulary strategy.
The purpose of this theory of transformative vocabulary is the assertion a systematic and
ongoing use of empowering and positive words can influence the favorable outcome of an
organization’s future (i.e. create positive behavior change). The theory of transformational
vocabulary was created using a qualitative methodology. Qualitative research is a “means for
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exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups assign to a social or human
problem” (Creswell, 2009, p. 4). According to Neuman (2006) theories contain built in
assumptions and or statements about the nature of things not observable or testable. Selecting a
qualitative methodology was appropriate for this theory building effort as this research relies on
the views of participants, asks general questions, collects data made up of mostly words or text,
describes and analyzes words for embedded themes, and executes the research in a subject and
biased manner (Creswell, 2008). While this theory’s research could take place anywhere, for
practical purposes it is focused on the central upstate New York metropolitan area of Syracuse.
The general population for this study is business organization employees.
Significance of the Study
Assuming the refinement an acceptance of the theory of transformational vocabulary,
business leaders and followers could benefit significantly from an increased ability to change
behaviors. Using a systematic approach to the theory additional benefits of speed, sustainability,
and extent of change might be enhanced. This research does not attempt to measure any
phenomena rather it seeks to understand and explore how speaking, hearing, and writing words
influence organizational behavior and change. Understanding how verbal and text-based
messages influence organization members can be useful in crafting cross-cultural
communications strategies for the organization (Xie, Rau, Tseng, Su, & Zhao, 2009). A useable
theory of transformational vocabulary would give leaders a relatively low cost, highly flexible,
portable tool to use in their efforts to implement organizational behavior change. As there is no
direct scholarly literature on the subject of transformational vocabulary this effort would open a
new field of research.
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Nature of the Study
Creswell (1998) defines a phenomenological study as one describing the meaning of the
lived experiences for individuals about a specific concept or phenomena. This study focuses on
the phenomena of a transformed vocabulary’s ability to change individual and organizational
behavior. A qualitative phenomenological design approach was selected to understand the social
significance of how words might influence organization member’s ability to change their
behavior. This research focuses on what processes occur when people hear, see, speak, and or
write empowering and positive words. Use of a phenomenological approach will allow research
into the lived experiences of organizational member’s exposure to words and how these words
influence member’s behavior. This method was appropriate due to focus on the lived experiences
of business organization employees. The exploratory nature of phenomenological research made
it appropriate to accomplish goals of the study.
Several questions are relevant to this research and include understanding why certain
words and text have the potential to affect change more than other words. Another critical
research question is exploring what the optimum structure of a transformational vocabulary
strategy might consist of in order to ensure acceptance and internalization of changed behavior.
For the theory to be meaningful it should provide an understanding of who are the key internal
and external individuals a leader should enlist to design, implement, and manage a
transformational vocabulary strategy. A final issue to be addressed is how positive and
empowering words and text help leaders and followers to become more motivated to change.
Thoroughly addressing these issues might help organizational behavior practitioners better
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understand the notion of transformational vocabulary and its potential impact on an
organization’s ability to change unethical behavior, parochialism, and negative politics.
Conceptual or Theoretical Framework
This research is based on several change and behavior theories including Lewin’s change
theory (Reed, & Vakola, 2006), Schein’s change theory (2002), and Ajzen’s theory of reasoned
action and planned behavior (Kritsonis, 2004). Transformational, visionary, cultural leadership
theories are used to help readers understand how leaders and followers use words in the
motivation process. Warren Bennis’ (1985) theory of leadership, James MacGregor Burn’s
(1982) and Edgar Schein’s (2004) model of organizational culture and leadership were also used
to explore transformational leadership’s role in the formation of the theory of transformational
vocabulary. In a recent study Salem (2008) listed insufficient communications, local
identification, global distrust, lack of productive humor, poor interpersonal communications
skills, conflict avoidance, and an inappropriate mix of loose and tight coupling as reasons why
organizations do not change. These reasons highlight the potential role effective use of
appropriate and positive words play in changing organizational behavior.
For the purposes of this research effort, transformational vocabulary theory is defined as
the belief positive and empowering words can motivate organizational members to make positive
behavioral changes. In this research transformational leadership is defined as the ability of
leaders to inspire followers by articulating vision, providing individualized support and
consideration, setting high performance standards, and creating intellectual stimulation (Gooty,
Gavin, Johnson, Frazier, & Snow, 2009). Adopting a transformational vocabulary requires
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visionary leaders to create, communicate, and implement a vision of a highly desirable and vivid
future organizational state that motivates followers (D'Intino, Boyles, Neck, & Hall, 2008).
This study assumes all participants are citizens of the United States, live in central upstate
New York and are employed by a business organization. The study also assumes all participants
speak English, are at least 25 years old, and have a college degree. Participants in this study are
assumed to have some kind of reporting relationship where they answer to another individual or
they report to a supervisor, manager, leader, board of directors or some other hierarchical
structure. All participants included in this research are assumed to have worked for their
employer for at least 3 years.
Scope, Limitations, and Delimitations
The focus of this study is only on full-time employees and not volunteers, advisors, and
or part-time employees. This study does not look at non-profit, government, single self-
employed individuals, or volunteers. Participants in this study must come from organizations
with at least 100 employees and there is no upper limit on an organization’s number of
employees. Minimum income for participants in this study is at least $25K with and upper limit
There is a substantial amount of scholarly peer-reviewed literature available to build a
foundation for the theory of transformational vocabulary. The definitions associated with
transformational leadership theory support the potential for a transformative theory of
vocabulary as there are frequent references to the use of communications, articulation,
vocalizing, and verbalizing an inspiring followers. Raiola (1995) states one of the most critical
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characteristics of the transformational leader is their ability to construct relationships by utilizing
positive and effective communications. A transformational leader must deliver a set of guidelines
supporting and nourish group members, initiating a pace for the group, modeling
communications behaviors, use of voice patterns, active listening, reflective communication
(paraphrasing), and use of clarification techniques such as questioning and summarizing.
Rafferty and Griffin (2004) argue when leaders communicate positive and encouraging
messages, there is an increased likelihood individuals will feel increasingly capable of carrying a
range of proactive tasks that go beyond the basics. Communications and verbal communications
specifically are even more important to the success of transformational leadership efforts when
they occur in online environments (Purvanova, & Bono, 2009). In the virtual communications
environment it is even more important to have clear communications from leaders due to noise in
the communications channel. For example it can take at least four times as long to type a
communication than to speak it (Hancock, 2004).
Organizational change is the process an organization uses to move from its current state
to a desired future state in order to increase the organization’s effectiveness (Jones, 2004).
Lewin’s model of change uses multiple phases including diagnosis, unfreezing, movement,
refreezing, and renewal stages (Francesco, & Gold, 2005). In global organizations a number of
key change agents include strategists, implementers and recipients must be engaged in order to
increase the likelihood of sustained change (Bowditch, Buono, & Stewart, 2008). To modify
organizational behavior a leader must be able effectively communicate ideas that help people
recognize the need for and logic of a specific change (Kotter, & Schlesinger, 1979). Of the 13
principles for managing people offered by Pfeffer (2005) several including information sharing,
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participation and empowerment, training and skill development, cross- utilization and cross-
training, embody communications as a critical factor in effectively managing people.
Research Method and Design Appropriateness
The purpose of this theory of transformative vocabulary is the assertion a systematic and
ongoing use of empowering and positive words can influence favorable outcomes of an
organization’s future. A qualitative approach was selected over a quantitative one as the study
will attempt to explore and understand how transformational vocabulary might influence the
decision of organizational participants to change their behavior. This research does not seek to
measure observable quantifiable data rather it has a general and broad focus attempting to
understand participants lived experiences within organizations as they relate to transforming
experiences. Data for the development of this theory will be collected using words and text
derived from conversations held during formal interviews.
Population, Sampling, and Data Collection Procedures and Rationale
The population identified for this research is employees of business organizations located
in the United States. The sample will consist of participants from business organizations located
in the metropolitan area of central upstate New York city of Syracuse. Data will be collected
using pre-scheduled, onsite, face-to-face, semi-structured, digitally recorded critical incident
technique (CIT) interviews transcribed into an electronic format usable with textual analysis
software. Most people have “Ah Ha moments” where they are suddenly compelled to make a
decision that changes their lives. CIT is widely used in business literature and can be described
as interacting events which the interviewee perceives or remembers as significantly positive or
negative when interviewed about them and which are later retold as stories (Fillis, 2006). Use of
a CIT interviewing technique is complementary to the exploratory focus of this inquiry which
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seeks to understand the experience of being motivated to change one’s behavior. The instrument
of data collection will be an interview of each participant conducted via face-to-face, onsite,
using semi-structured open-ended questions to elicit participants’ perceptions (Creswell, 2009).
The approximate number of participants selected for this research 25-30 organizational members.
Audio, video, and textual data acquired from participant interviews will be ingested into
digital analysis software. Qualitative audio, video, and textual analysis software will be used
because of the large volume of transcripts expected from the open ended participant interviews.
Using documents found during the literature review, key themes will be identified from the
digital analysis software. Examples of themes might include change processes, behavior
attributes, and transformation processes. NVivo qualitative software will be used because of its
ability to ingest, query, produce charts, compare, contrast, manage, and map a variety of multi-
media files (Johnson, Buehring, Cassell, & Symon, 2007).
Using a qualitative phenomenological approach this paper proposed a theory of
transformational vocabulary to address the problem of increased potential for business failures
due to rapidly changing operating environments. This paper suggested a systematic and ongoing
use of empowering and positive words can influence the advantageous outcome of an
organization’s future by creating positive behavior change. This paper advances the use of a
systematic approach to the theory and suggests benefits of speed, sustainability, and depth of
change might be the end result of such an effort. The study focuses on the phenomena of a
transformed vocabulary’s ability to change individual and organizational behavior. A
transformational vocabulary theory has the potential to give leaders a new tool for changing
domestic and global organizational behavior.
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